**Note: As of 2017, Jenni is no longer with Upworthy, however, the information RE: writing submissions in this article is current as of publication and will provide some great tips for those of you looking to submit**
Please welcome to the Editor’s Q&A corner, Upworthy Editor, Jenni Gritters. Jenni tells us about starting the freelance program at Upworthy, the recipe for the pieces they publish, why images are so important to their content, the types of pitches she wants to see more of, payment and bonuses for writers and more!
Q: Let’s start with a primer on Upworthy for those who are new to your online magazine, which happens to reach a massive audience.
A: The internet often narrows our world instead of broadening it, and there are a lot of empty stories drowning out the issues and people who matter most right now. But sometimes a story opens a door to a new and better world. It might make you feel surprised, happy, inspired, motivated, or even sad.
Those meaningful stories give us what we’re missing. They connect us with each other. They are rocket fuel for empathy. They change our hearts, our minds and sometimes even, the world. That’s where Upworthy comes in. Upworthy was founded to tell stories that matter, stories that are worth your time, and stories that make the world a better place. We use our special tools to make those meaningful stories get as much attention as possible.
Q: Tell us about your role at Upworthy.
A: When I first started at Upworthy, my job was to help our Editorial Director, Amy O’Leary, overhaul the entire editorial system. Our writers worked mostly as curators when I arrived, but now they do original reporting. I joined the team to help teach those skills, and to rethink our storytelling methods.
As part of that role, I launched our freelance and licensing program last year, which I still manage today. Now I also run a team of staff writers. On a day-to-day basis, this means I’m story hunting, assigning projects, reading hundreds of pitches, editing stories from staff writers and freelancers, preparing stories for distribution, coaching writers on reporting skills, managing our story budget, and all sorts of other stuff.
Q: How many pieces are you publishing each week?
A: It depends. Usually we run about 10 written stories and a few videos per day, but that number varies depending on what’s going on in the world.Here's how to start writing for Upworthy! (competitive PAYMENT for writers) Click To Tweet
Q: Your pitch guidelines describe the type of content you publish as Surprising, Meaningful, Visual, and Shareable. Can you expand on those?
A: That story recipe = surprising + meaningful + visual + shareable – is what we look at when we decide which pitches to accept, both from staff writers and from freelancers. Here’s the breakdown:
- Surprising: Your story should startle me. It should teach me something new. We want to zig while everyone else zags, and part of that is surprising our readers (who are often overwhelmed with content) with stories that help them see the world differently.
- Meaningful: If a million people saw this story, would it make the world a better place? I’m constantly asking this question, because Upworthy’s mission is to help make the world better every single day. This doesn’t mean we only publish “good news,” either – important, actionable stories come in many forms with many emotions.
- Visual: Do you have photos in hand, or at least an idea of the kind of visuals you plan to use in your story? Some stories work without images, but most don’t… so when I get a pitch, I ask about visuals right away. Images help with the pacing of a narrative, and they should be part of the story, not supplementary to it. Think about it: Are you more likely to read a 2,000 word block of text if it’s broken up by photos, or if it’s… a giant block of text?
- Shareable: Would you share the story? Would your mom share the story? Would your mom’s best friend share the story? People share stories on social media because they want to say something about themselves, and we think about this a lot both in story creation and packaging. You should have an idea of who your audience is and why they’ll be interested before you start writing.
Here are some examples:
Everyone stood by as a man drowned. Here’s why this refugee jumped in. by Annia Ciezadlo
This story is surprising and dramatic. It has a strong narrative. The images were submitted with the pitch. The story changes the refugee narrative we all think we know, and makes us ask an important question: Do all heroes look a certain way? The story is about an important current issue, it’s incredibly meaningful, and it’s super shareable. For Upworthy, this story is a win-win.
The harsh reality of being a black child in America, told in a 10-part comic. by Devin C. Hughes
This is a gut-wrenching visual story. It’s a comic. It looks at an incredibly important issue that’s in the current conversation. The narrative isn’t placating, it’s real and honest and true. People from many different groups will share this. And it has actionable takeaways. For Upworthy, this story is another win-win.
Q: Are there any topics/categories that you don’t get as many pitches for that you’d like to see more of?
A: We get a lot of pitches about mental health, coming out, body positivity, parenting a child with a mental illness, anti-Trump politics, and nonprofits doing good things. Unfortunately, we don’t often need many more of those stories, unless they’re new and surprising.
What we do need more of are surprising and bold pitches from folks with marginalized voices. Help us teach our audience something new. We also need originally reported human stories from places where big things are happening – from the North Dakota pipeline, or Flint, or Syria, for example.
Q: Walk us through the submission process.
A: The first step to pitching is receiving our freelancer packet, which has lots of information about what we’re looking for and how to send it. You can request that here.
Once you’ve submitted your pitch, we try to get back to you in 2 weeks. We get hundreds of pitches per week, and we have a tiny team, so sometimes we get a bit behind. But usually, 2-3 weeks is what should be expected. You will always get an email back about your pitch, even if we don’t accept it.
It’s important to note that because of that 2-week turnaround time, we don’t accept trending news stories – our staff writers work on those. And if you email a pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org, we’ll ask you to send it through the system anyway!
We don’t accept many pitches per month, but if your idea is accepted, we’ll work with you through the reporting process. That usually takes two weeks, then you’ll have to wait a week to collect traffic numbers while your story is live before invoicing us.
Q: You pay contributors. Can you share any details about that?
A: We pay a base rate for each story, which is based on how long the project is/ how much reporting it will require. That base rate is never less than $150. Then we also include bonuses. If the story is chosen to go on our Facebook page, which is our “front page,” you get a bonus. And you’ll also get incremental traffic bonuses, depending on how well the story does. If your story goes viral and brings in over one million page views, you could make more than $1000!
Q: Do you accept previously published work?
A: We do! We license content for a flat fee. You can send those submissions through the pitching system as well. You’re also welcome to do a new version of another story you’ve written, if the other publication is okay with that.
Q: Where is your headquarters, and do you accept work from international writers?
A: Many Upworthians work out of New York, but we’re a remote company! So yes, we accept writers from anywhere. You’ll just need to be able to fill out a W8 or W9 for us to pay you.
Q: Can you share any stories of Upworthy posts that catapulted the author into an exciting opportunity or other type of success?
A: One of the best things about writing for Upworthy is that we don’t require you to be famous or experienced. You do need to have a few writing samples ready for submission, so we can get a sense for your voice or tone. But many of my freelancers wrote their first “big media” piece for Upworthy.
One writer in particular wrote a viral story for us about growing up with an alcoholic parent, and has since spun that following into a website for people who’ve had the same experiences with alcoholism. She writes about that same thing for many other publications, too. We’re a great place to launch a freelance writing career.
Q: As far as rights go, are contributors able to republish something you have published in the future, and if so, do you have any requests as far as that goes.
A: It depends. If you’re creating a story for us, then we own it, and you cannot republish. If we’re licensing a story from you, we “own” rights for 90 days, but you are welcome to publish it elsewhere after that.
Q: What’s next for Upworthy?
A: So much! We’re working on building out more original comics, and we always love pitches from illustrators and photographers. As we move even more heavily toward originally reported feature stories, we’re looking for folks who want to go to interesting places, to help us understand our world more clearly. We’re also focusing strongly on stories about climate change, race, systemic poverty, the criminal justice system, refugees, and Native American issues in the coming months.